The Urge To Help

The Alice

When I read that Bob Duke and some of his drone buddies were trying to find the Alice, I had an almost overwhelming desire to help.  Not by sending my drone up over the beach.  (I don’t have a drone.)  No, my urge was one I have rather frequently – to go back in time and spend a day with one or two of my forebears.  In this case, it was my Aunt Medora who came to mind.  She was just ten years old when she wrote:

                        Friday, January 15, 1909 at half past eight
Dearest Mama,
            There was a ship come in last night at three o’clock.  The crew consists of 27 men.  They can’t speak English.  Bradford, Dorothy and I went to see the ship.
            The ship is about a mile from Ocean Park.  There was quite a number going from town.       We didn’t have any school after (12) twelve o’clock because we wanted to go see the ship.
                                                                        Your loving daughter, Medora Espy

If only I could spend that afternoon with Medora and the group “from town” in their walk down the beach to the Alice.  I wonder if such an excursion would help locate the remains of the ship in the here and now. Even if Medora’s report of “about a mile from Ocean Park” was accurate, how far out beyond the tideline would we have to look?  How much accretion has there been at that part of the beach since the jetties went in?  Probably the Army Corps guys have facts and figures about that.  Or maybe Kathleen Sayce who has been working on sand and dune related projects for years.

By Bob Duke

As I understand it, the hope is for the drones to locate the outline of the wrecked ship, or at least the outline of her cement cargo, from on high.  When the graceful French sailing ship Alice blew onto the beach on that early morning 109 years ago, her cargo of 2,200 tons of cement was immediately catalyzed into hard packets by the salt water.  Plans for her salvage were not even considered.

The ship had left London six months previously with about two-thirds of a full load of pulverized cement in barrels.  She was bound for the Columbia River but when she came in sight of her destination, the tugboat necessary to a safe entry of the river could not approach because of the heavy winds.  For six days it was “in and off and hove to” according to Able-Bodied Seaman DeReugemond.

When the ship finally blew into shore, it was the howling of young Willie Taylor’s dog, Solano, that raised the alarm. Ironically, the dog, itself, had been a shipwreck-victim two years earlier when the Solano, a four-masted schooner ran aground four miles to the north.  And, hence, the dog’s name.

Crew of the Alice at the Taylor Hotel, 1909

The dog’s master quickly spread the word and the North Beach Life Saving Crew hitched the horses, placed the surfboat on the beach cart, and took off for the scene of the wreck.  Reaching the ship was difficult; soft sand and adverse weather made the horses balky.  Fortunately, all hands reached shore safely using their own lifeboat.

One of the cherished memories of the late Beulah Slingerland Wickberg (1893–1995), at the time a teenager, was of playing the piano at the Taylor Hotel for the Alice’s French sailors to accompany their singing.  “After all,” she would recall, “music is a universal language.”

One Response to “The Urge To Help”

  1. betsy says:

    Medora’s letters are such an amazing resource! We are working on a Shipwreck exhibition for the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum next Fall and would love to include her memories and those of others. Thank you for sharing them.

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